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[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Heartbeat Operator"

2017/12/30 | Permalink

Hye-eun (played by Lee Yoo-mi) is a teenager who loves Indian culture. It's not clear that Hye-eun actually understands anything about Indian culture, but she's pretty earnest about her daily morning meditation, even if it causes her to chronically be late to everything. Anyway! Hye-eun makes her way to Jeonju University, and quickly develops a huge crush on Seung-bin (played by Yoon Jung-il), and struggles to win him over with various bad decisions.

While intrinsically a romantic comedy, "The Heartbeat Operator" is unusual in that its lead character is obviously selfish, childish, and generally unsympathetic, but this fact is never whitewashed. When Hye-eun's friends cooperate with Hye-eun's stupid plans, it is because they, too, are obviously teenage idiiots. Hye-eun is not rewarded at the end for having solved a crisis that only came about in the first place because she was abusing forbidden Indian magic.

That ridiculous gimmick is the main thing "The Heartbeat Operator" has going for it. Everything about this movie is just so unabashedly silly it's hard to not at least crack a smile every so often. Most of the gags are a result of poor situational awareness. Such as, being too stupid to detect that someone has a romantic interest in you. Or spying on a person and getting misleading visuals.

There's an Indian guy here who is given subtitles even though he is always talking in perfectly cogent Korean. The effect, obviously, is to make the character seem mysterious and exotic when in actuality he's just a grifter. Not, like, a hardcore grifter or anything like that. He's just the exchange student who takes advantage of his foreignness to say and do things that would come off as obviously weird from a native student.

Magical Indian artifact notwithstanding the story in "The Heartbeat Operator" is mostly just a prank war that keeps going increasingly wrong. The fault for that lies with Hye-eun, who is too stupid and nave to realize that she provokes literally every problem in this story, and that her actions are inherently aggressive even when wrapped up in the mantle of true love. Which is to say, Hye-eun is an idiot teenager, and acts like one.

Another nice touch is Hye-eun's epilogue. But the joke isn't relevant to the story. A year after Hye-eun is just being stupid when it comes to men in a different way. It's actually a pretty cute commentary on how when young people learn from their experiences, what they usually learn is to not do things in one specific way. They don't understand the intrinsic flaws in their thinking, and it will take several more failures for them to get that far, if ever.

For all her stupid behavior Hye-eun is oddly endearing as a protagonist. It helps that Lee Yoo-mi is cute and genuinely enthusiastic about the role, such that Hye-eun comes off like a kitten who has suddenly realized she has claws, and proceeds to destroy things with no regard to long-term consequences. This also works as a metaphor for "The Heartbeat Operator" as a whole. The movie is cute, goofy, and mostly harmless.

Review by William Schwartz

"The Heartbeat Operator" is directed by Jang Hee-min and features Lee Yoo-mi, Yoon Jung-il, Lee Ga-kyung and Hong Ye-eun.

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